Monday, June 4, 2012

Shipping Bicycles: a Delicate Matter?

Bike Delivery
Over the past couple of years, I have gotten the sense that shipping bicycles in the USA has become increasingly difficult - particularly bikes that are larger and heavier than a standard modern roadbike. Bike boxes aren't typically made large enough anymore, and the correct size can be next to impossible to hunt down. Shipping companies can give dramatically incorrect estimates for what the service will cost (this happened to me the last time I sold a bike and shipped it myself). And there are lots of accounts of bikes getting damaged in transit despite careful packaging. 

For the recipient, receiving a damaged bicycle can be heartbreaking - especially if the damage is something major, like a dent in the frame. For the sender, damage in transit can mean having to pay for it, or at least meeting the recipient half way, if the shipment was not insured or the insurance does not come through. 

Personally the only way I feel comfortable shipping a bicycle now is via a bike shop. Yes, we can pack bicycles ourselves and we can do an excellent job. But nonetheless we are not recognised as "professionals." Bike shops are. This apparently can play a role if there is damage in transit and an insurance claim is filed. "Was the bike professionally packed?"

Unfortunately not all bike shops are willing to ship bicycles anymore, especially not large or heavy bikes. This seems to be a recent development: A couple of shops in my neighbourhood used to offer this service, but stopped a year or two ago. Still, in my view finding a good bike shop that does provide the service is worth it. And getting the shipment insured is a must. 

What has been your experience with shipping or receiving bicycles over the past year? Do you prefer to ship bikes yourself or to use the services of a bike shop? And in cases of damage in transit, how was the situation resolved? Tips and advice much appreciated.

45 comments:

  1. Buying vintage bikes from out of state is easier with my FedEx account because after I identify a bike shop that will accept drop off of bike for packaging, FedEx will pick up and affix address & shipping label. So far, no damage to bikes. Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've had two used bikes shipped to me from the Netherlands. Both were shipped by a private party....no professionals involved. Except for some broken plastic parts, which I attribute to being weather worn and brittle, the bikes arrived in good condition.

    I think the reason I had such good fortune is that the bikes were not shipped in the usual bike box format. Instead, these bikes were torn down completely, wrapped for protection and shipped in multiple boxes.

    To be fair, damage could have occurred in transit, but I wouldn't know for sure as these were old bikes that had already seen a lot of wear and tear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I recently received a bike that was disassembled completely, with each part packaged in bubblewrap. nothing is damaged and it's a neat way of doing it, but requires a lot of work on the part of both sender and recipient!

      Delete
  3. I have mail-ordered four frames in the last decade, (cycling family), and all arrived at my house undamaged and without a hitch. I am all DIY, except for installing threadless headsets or chasing & facing, having never invested in the tools required to complete those tasks.

    I recently purchased a complete bicycle via mail order, and was very pleased with both the shipping service and the bike's condition upon arrival.

    Because I have had such good experiences with mail order & my LBS doesn't act much like one, I will probably continue the mail ordering and DIYing, unless things change. That said, I am considering buying one of Henry's Workcycles, in Amsterdam, and riding the thing home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are in the UK, so I wonder if things are better there than here. Although I am told that getting a complete bike shipped from England to N Ireland in a pain.

      Delete
    2. Velouria you are quite correct, getting a bicycle sent to a non UK mainland address is a pain. Bicycle cartons have had to get smaller as carriers have enforced strict limits on size and weight. The sensible approach should be a limit on cubic volume and weight, but if a carton is 5mm too long, but the cubic volume and weight is still within the specification it is too difficult a concept to grasp apparently.

      This seems to have come much more to the fore within the past three years. Some carriers will not deliver to non UK mainland and others impose a hefty surcharge. Apparently it isn't that difficult to overcome or be competative, as Chain Reaction Cycles based in Doagh, Co. Antrim have built a succesful global mail order business without various caveats or surcharges on deliveries within Europe. I think it goes down to attitude, either you believe something is possible and work to find a solution or else you can't be bothered. If you find a good courier who is willing to work with you, stick with them unless they up their prices too much.

      Delete
  4. So far have not had a bike damaged. Fortunately there are two bike shops nearby that still perform shipping services.

    Prices have gone up markedly. The worse things go for the post office, the more FedEx and UPS charge. And as you note, the private carrier service seems to be more careless than in the past.

    To send a tubular wheel set and tires from Chicago to Austin last week the boxing and FedEx ground cost $86.00. With energy prices soaring, things will only get worse.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've shipped many bikes via UPS and have had only one instance of damage and it was minor. The recipient filed a claim and UPS reimbursed them after it was decided that the frame was packaged professionally by a shop. This is the most important part if you should need to file a claim. UPS often uses the fact that it wasn't packed by a shop and therefore it wasn't done correctly.

    I work in a shop and have unpacked many new bicycles coming from manufacturers and I pack bicycles the same way they ship them. Cover all tubes in foam, protect all aluminum parts that may get scratched, make the bicycle as small as possible, use zip ties to secure pieces and parts that may move around in transit. Put small parts in boxes and strategically place them where they can act as padding. Tape the box well, top, bottom and sides. Insure the bicycle for what it would cost to replace it and be sure that someone signs for it on the other end.

    Harris Cyclery will pack and ship almost any bicycle within the US. Tandems and other large bicycle that won't fit into a normal size bike box have to be shipped by a freight company.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Our local bike shop does a great job packing and having UPS pick up / transport the bicycle. Cheap? Nope, but good labor rarely is.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've shipped 2 and had issues with both. First a 70s era 3-speed. No damage issues, but had to haggle with UPS about the cost. I measured the box and it was under their "large package" designation, yet their system scanned it as "large" and added a surcharge. 2nd bike had same "large" issue plus a bent fork (steel) that then had to be replaced. Was packed well so the only way it could have been damaged in the way it was would be the result of another package being dropped on it.

    I'm to the point that it isn't worth the hassle to try and ship. although if I really had to ship one, I think I'd be looking at over-the-road trucking carriers and negotiate with them. At least then I can box it and secure it to a pallet with the designation that nothing be placed on top of it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh my goodness. Shipping bikes for us became a nightmare last year. My husband had to be away on business for a month, so he rented a hard case from the bike shop and shipped his bike to where he would be staying. On the return shipment, the bike was damaged. We think he may have left a CO2 cartridge in his seat bag and FedEx removed it, poorly repacking the bike in the process. Anyway, his carbon fiber frame was cracked. It took forever to get the insurance claim worked out....they originally wanted to TAKE his bike to review the damage themselves. He wasn't about to let them have it. They wanted to just toss it in the back of the FedEx truck. Anyway, he ended up sending the bike to a carbon repair shop on the west coast. After waiting MONTHS to get it back, when it arrived, there was a new crack. Had to send it back to the repair shop again. You'd think a carbon repair shop could pack it up properly, but no. He was out of a bike from September through April. I think from now on we will be trying to rent bikes at our destinations instead of shipping.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG... So what happened to this bike in the end - is it being ridden with 2 repaired cracks in the carbon?.. And did the insurance finally come through?

      Delete
    2. one of the reasons i prefer carbon fiber frames is because they are so much easier and cheaper to repair than metal frames.

      (carbon fiber is also recycled for free at just about any large bike shop.)

      Delete
  9. Hmm... I've been thinking about shipping my bike with the air caddy from shipbikes.com. I was assuming it as perfectly safe, but now you've got me worried. Any experience?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have heard good things about shipping with Amtrak Freight. Unfortunately, i have never done it myself and it's worth noting that it only goes to places along the major routes. For example, I couldn't ship my bike from boston to montreal, but could easily ship it to chicago.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I build boxes to ship my bikes. Tandems, Recumbents and British Roadsters. Elmers glue works well and can be bought in gallon containers. It sets up in about 4 hours. I also use 2" fiber tape to close the box and reinforce handle holes. Wrapping each tube with foam pipe insulation and holding it in place with zip ties saves the paint and a possible dent happening. Everything gets tied to the frame. Seat, Pedals and small parts box. Small parts get bagged and stapled. A photo disc of assembly order is a good idea if you think there may be a question. A name tag is also tied to the wrapped frame if for some reason the box is removed and lost during inspection, (It happens) Going to bat for customers when bikes get damaged by our carrier can take hours. Its really worth it to have a bicycle shop ship your bike and have your customer pay for it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. you seem like a prime candidate for S&S couplers-- very high on my bike upgrade list personally.

    ReplyDelete
  13. We have had far too many instances of damage with shipping bikes in the last 1-2 years. It really doesn't seem to matter how well the bike is wrapped up, fork put in a stabilizing unit, protected from the sides... somehow, damage has been sustained in all but one bike shipment (there have been 6 - I believe - in the last year-ish). Since we are not inept, I am trying to make the costs lower for the person receiving the bike, but ultimately, I have ended up causing more harm to myself because I end up having to share the costs of damage with the receiver (or cover the costs completely, depending on the situation). It is incredibly frustrating. It's to the point now that I just don't want to sell a bike to anyone who is outside of a reasonable distance so that it can be picked up or dropped off personally.

    The packages are always insured, however, I have yet to see one instance of a claim come through, as they are always denied. The solution has become (as you've suggested) that the bike will be packed by a bike shop and shipped to a bike shop, which is incredibly expensive on both sides (in my opinion). The last bike I sent was sent to a bike shop, but they didn't pay attention to the damage sustained to the bike (which would've likely made a claim a lot easier). Perhaps there is no way to know that the bike will arrive damage free and that the specific damage will be noticed by the receiver before it's too late?

    I'm definitely interested to know if others have found a good way to transport bikes. The only way that has worked thus far was having a transport service pick up the bike and transport it whole inside of a van, standing upright and strapped in. It cost about $250 to transport it from Colorado to Texas though, so I suspect it could be even more costly going completely across the country.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "It is incredibly frustrating. It's to the point now that I just don't want to sell a bike to anyone who is outside of a reasonable distance so that it can be picked up or dropped off personally."

      I will not ship any bicycles I sell anymore. If a person who is not local wants it, I suggest one of 2 local bike shops and they deal with them directly after buying the bike from me.

      "The packages are always insured, however, I have yet to see one instance of a claim come through, as they are always denied. The solution has become (as you've suggested) that the bike will be packed by a bike shop and shipped to a bike shop, which is incredibly expensive on both sides (in my opinion). "

      Interesting. In my experience with the local shops whose shipping services I use (Harris Cyclery and the Ride Studio Cafe), it is not much more expensive than had we packed and shipped the bike ourselves. I guess it depends on the shop.

      Delete
  14. I used the air caddy from shipbikes.com twice, coast to coast and the bikes arrived intact and with no damage.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Jennifer in ScotlandJune 4, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    I had my Betty Foy shipped from Rivendell in California to Scotland. Although it was beautifully and expertly packed, it suffered a little mishap in transit and a small area of paint was missing from one of the seat stays when it was unpacked. It's not a major problem and hasn't spoiled my enjoyment of my bike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been considering importing a Betty Foy to the UK but the duty tax and VAT charges (plus shipping etc) have put me off. It's depressing that this type of bike cannot be found in the UK - Roberts Cycles do a ladies open frame similar to Betty Foy but as yet I have had a less than positive response to my enquiries. :(

      Delete
    2. Apologies for the above moan and incorrect name of a frame builder not on my 650B wave-length - it was Bob Jackson cycles not Roberts. Roberts do a mixte but I haven't gotten in touch yet - still thinking about Betty...

      Delete
  16. The best way to ensure that bike gets from point A to point B in pristine condition is to crate it in a wooden crate. Strictly old school but will work every time.

    The wooden crate will add cost since it's so much heavier than cardboard but you gain the assurance that unless some ham fist gets ahold of your bike it will arrive at it's destination unharmed.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This one hits a lot of nerves. Instead of reliving personal traumas I'll just say that I know guys with businesses in custom millwork, custom furniture, custom cabinetry who are all opting more and more often to deliver it themselves rather than trust a shipper. This would be delivery as far as Chicago to San Diego.

    The shippng business generally is having hard times financially. Management takes it out on the frontline workers. These are hostile and difficult places to try to work.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Shipping yourself isn't a guarantee of safety. We had our triplet converted back to a tandem a few years ago. Got it painted a lovely metallic purple. Picked it up from the shop ourselves and carefully loaded it into our car. At home I lifted the frame out of the car, forgetting about the forks which clanged to the floor chipping off a big flake of paint. :(

    ReplyDelete
  19. We (Clever Cycles) used to go to great lengths to break big bikes down and pack into the maximum size boxes accepted by common carriers, but found that the damage rate and very considerable labor costs on both ends (not least in incompetent reassembly correction) make sending them completely assembled on pallets via freight much more viable. Much higher shipping cost per se, much less head and heartache at the end of the day.

    This pertains only to bikes larger than the norm in the US, like Dutch utility bikes. Sometimes I wonder to what extent bicycle design norms are constrained by what can be shipped most economically. There's a wheelbase threshold somewhere between "touring" and "Dutch" that effectively adds hundreds to the cost of moving one singly anyplace, and thus the final price. That can make or break commercial success in a tight market.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Sometimes I wonder to what extent bicycle design norms are constrained by what can be shipped most economically."

      What a terrible thought!

      Delete
    2. We have also started shipping via freight a lot more (in the past year) at our shop. The cost of the shipping is a bit more, but the labor saved at both ends brings the price difference to a pretty reasonable amount, assuming that the receiving party isn't assembling the bike themselves. We did have one cosmetically damaged frame and one badly damaged velomobile, but the freight company was reasonable to deal with.

      -Matt

      Delete
  20. In the sixties I worked for a well known shipper. Lines of guys unload trucks, throwing packages down a line. Boxes marked fragile were thrown hard at the next guy in line, especially if the box was heavier than it looked. Let the buyer beware applies here.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Wow, I guess I've been lucky. I've shipped about 10 bikes so far, and haven't had one reported damaged. I have found that FedEx ground is the safest and most economical of the major carriers. Plus, there is an art to packaging and I always pack very carefully. I also add reinforcements to the box itself at critical points. It helps to understand how things move and shake and rub around when being transported. Once you can imagine what it's like to be a bike in a box on a conveyor belt, you can pack accordingly. People also overestimate the durability of paint. It doesn't take too much repetitive rubbing to quickly wear paint down!

    I have received about 7-8 bikes, and of those, two arrived with minor damage. However, in both cases it was due to poor packing and was not the fault of the carrier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've received three bikes in the last year; two were packed and shipped through major well known bike shops, and one came from Somervillain.
      (He actually packs more carefully and logically than Calhoun Cyclery in Minneapolis or Harris Cyclery. The guy is a rock star when it comes to packing bikes.)
      All three bikes came through with no damage issues, though the one from Calhoun did have some bashing and tearing to the box. Now that I think about it, it was the heaviest and most upright of the three- a 1970s Raleigh loop frame. Make of that what you will.
      Perhaps Todd @Clever is onto something with his comment about bicycle design and shipping issues.

      No experiences with bike shipping damage, but did I ever I mention the $10,000 guitar I helped build that FedEx smashed to flinders when it was shipped to it's new owner last fall?
      Talk about a sickening feeling when opening a box...

      Surprisingly, they paid up, and quickly.

      CK

      Delete
    2. As an addendum, I do not remember which carriers were used for thee two commercially packed bikes.
      We explored the use of Greyhound for the Minneapolis-to-Santa Cruz shipment, but discovered that bike shop packing and shipping was only $10 or so more.

      Delete
  22. A glitch of modern times is security, contrary to airline websites some airports do not have oversize parcel x-ray machines and your carefully packed bike endures the inspection process. These professionals did not have good packing tape , so if you are going international , do the final sealing after security. I have always packed my bike as it came to the bike shop , factory style . Ask your LBS to show you a bike in a box . P.S.Go to Cuba , take a bike , I did!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I am flying out to Whitefish, MT to cycle on the Great Divide with my large, heavy Tout Terrain Silkroad (Rohloff hub). I purchased a special box from Crate Works and will be shipping it by Fedex via a service called Bikeflights. Highly recommended by Adventure Cycling Association and reviews are excellent. Will let you know how it goes. Not until July, though.

    ReplyDelete
  24. What if you froze your bike in a big giant ice cube and then sent it super express service ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. my bikes are made from an alloy of pig iron and sea salts, so the ice block makes them rust more than usual.

      Delete
  25. I'm following this thread very closely - *gulp*.

    ReplyDelete
  26. My best experiences with shipping so far have been Amtrak (highly recommend) and Greyhound. Fed Ex and UPS have managed to destroy 2 bikes apiece and in all cases it took over a year to settle. The worst one was a step through Raleigh that had been "professionally" packed...sorry putting a bike in a box full of Styrofoam peanuts IS NOT professionally packed!

    With Amtrak I remove the pedals, lower the stem and saddle, turn the handlebars sideways, roll it into the box and apply tape. It arrives at the other end in one piece and pretty much ready to ride. I have currently shipped over 6 bikes this way with no issues, including one from NC to WA and then from WA to MA!

    Aaron

    ReplyDelete
  27. Damn, you are prolific; cain't hardly keep up.

    The last bicycle I shipped was a fully kitted Herse with Le Fols, custom racks, bottle dynamo lighting and old school Lafuma front bag and panniers. Whatzizname at Stevie's Happy Bikes in Corrales, NM did an ace job of packing and shipping; the recipient praised the packing job highly and she claims she has a lot of experience with bike packing. Not cheap by any means, but a few extra $$ at the front end is worth a lot of hassle, misery and cost at the back.

    I'm taking my Ken Rogers BRT (= British racing tricycle) to Stevie's tomorrow, God willing, to see if'n they will agree to pack and ship that. Now that is a job I'd not want to do for myself.

    Me, I can effectively, if crudely, pack a typical road or mountain bike myself if it does not have fenders and extra accoutrements. But the nicest packing jobs I have seen myself have been Rivendells'; I've received three frames and one bike from them. They are works of art themselves; a sort of traditional-Japanse-craft-level attention to detail.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I've shipped a Rivendell Romukus four times without incident using the Trico Iron case. MIT takes about 15 minutes to get the bike in, since you need to remove both wheels, the saddle and seat post, the pedals, and the stem, but then everything fis in nicely and the padding plus the shell seems tomproect everything perfectly. I used UPS ground.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Over the past year, at different times I've received five frames and forks from England. I must be lucky because not one has been damaged in any way. The boxes were somewhat beat up but then again I don't know the condition of the boxes to begin with.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Well, I can speak highly of BikesDirect. My bike (which was very well packed), and the box it was packed in, arrived in pristine condition. It is one of the "track" (really, it's a single speed road bike) bikes and thus very light. I may try to land a vintage Schwinn on eBay soon. That will make an interesting comparison.

    Rudy

    ReplyDelete
  31. I didn't technically ship my bike, but I did just move and take it on the plane with me. I had a shop pack it. They charged $85, plus it was another $50 to check it on the plane as baggage. They did a wonderful job, and they did it fast (only a day turnaround). The bike arrived completely safe after the plane ride, and I was easily able to reassemble it myself. I think the total cost was really reasonable, too. I think the way they packed it would have been safe for shipping. But does my experience mean it's easier to fly with a bike than to ship one?

    ReplyDelete
  32. We use fed-ex for all our original Dutch bicycle brands to all our customers based in North America. Our site www.anddutch.com Been great. quick and no hassle! (touch wood)

    ReplyDelete